What Are Soft Skills?

Job applicants hear a lot of talk about “hard skills” and “soft skills.”  A 2014 study by CareerBuilder surveyed human resource professionals and resulted in a finding that 77% of those surveyed believed soft skills are just as important as hard skills and 16% think they are more important.  So what’s the difference between hard and soft skills and why is this difference important to employers?

 Hard skills are things learned through education, training, certifications, etc. and can be identified as technical skills, computer skills, hands-on skills appropriate to a particular occupation. If you're a welder, you've been taught how to weld.  If you're a carpenter, you've perfected the necessary skills.   These skills are easy to define and evaluate and measure. 

 Employers say they can teach almost anyone the hard skills but soft skills are more innate and difficult to teach.  So, let's talk about soft skills.  Some of these might be called “people” skills.  They are intangible and often related to personality type, learned behavior, and emotions.  Soft skills may be ingrained and learned from peers and family.  As a result, soft skills are harder to define and measure.  But employers know them when they see them.  They love soft skills because they are transferable, making the employee more versatile.  Soft skills can be put to use no matter what specific job the employee is asked to do.  A good grasp of soft skills can be a company-booster! 

  A partial list of soft skills might include:

  • Communication skills – Do job applicants have the verbal skills needed to talk to their fellow employees and/or customers?  Are they good listeners?  Do they easily and completely process and understand what is being said?  Can they repeat what they have heard, even condense it accurately for brevity’s sake? 
  • Time management –Do applicants use their time wisely and productively while on the job?  Do they manage their personal time well enough to be on time for work each day? 
  • Organization – Can job recruits see what’s important and what’s not?  Can they prioritize their work for maximum productivity and time management?
  • Problem-solving – Can potential employees identify and understand a problem?  Do they actively seek solutions or just give up or hand it off to someone else?  Can they think creatively and look for out-of-the-box ideas? 
  • Conflict resolution – Are applicants approachable?  Are they willing to listen and make an effort to understand another point of view? Are they open to compromise to resolve a conflict? 
  • Teamwork – Do they play well with others? Can they collaborate and cooperate in the workplace?  Can they work with others at discovering solutions?
  • Motivation – Are applicants ready to bring their best game to the job every day?  Are they willing to put forth their best effort at every task assigned?  
  • Flexibility – Are applicants able to adapt to change?  Are they willing to try new things/assignments? 
  • Drug-Free – Can an applicant pass a drug test at hiring and at any random time on the job?

    While these soft skills are very important, in the end, both hard and soft skills matter to employers.  A good balance of the knowledge/mastery of the job and good interpersonal qualities result in a well-rounded applicant.  And a well-rounded applicant has a head-start on a productive career.